AndyTalk: Four Riffs on Caprese Salad

See Also: AndyTalk: Attack of the Hot Tomatoes See Also: The Bitter Truth About Frisee - aka Curly Endive

A Caprese Salad is as classic and iconic as a blue blazer or a little black dress. All three invite personalization according to taste. In other words the salad is capricious. It's a salad that requires fresh and/or high quality ingredients. A Caprese needs fresh mozzarella that literally melts in your mouth (or higher fat buffalo mozzarella if you can find it.) If the cheese is rubbery it's a salad, but not a Caprese.

No classic salad says, "remake me," louder than the splendidly simple Caprese. Not that a makeover is necessary; there's nothing wrong with fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper ...

For a light lunch try a Caprese with Italian Tuna in olive oil. Basically this is a classic Caprese that's topped with lightly seasoned tuna. The trick is to get a little of each ingredient in your mouth at the same time, so that the cheese melts into the tuna in your mouth. I omit the basil and opt to drizzle the tuna with a little lemon juice.

My favorite new Caprese salad is made with caramelized Canadian bacon and Dijon Vinaigrette. This chopped salad uses the whey the mozzarella comes in as the base for a light Dijon dressing. The brown tones from the bacon conspire with the buttery fresh mozzarella to yin-yang their way to the part of your brain that likes to eat. The acid in the tomatoes is the perfect fulcrum to balance the flavors and textures.

Caprese Salad with Three Olives includes both Kalamata and green olives and olive oil. The shallot adds a hint texture as well as flavor. A sweet vinegar plays off the hint of bitter in the Kalamatas. This is a great side for a grilled entrée.

The Kale and Yellow Tomato Caprese is halfway between a Caprese and a tossed salad. A generous amount of Rice vinegar gives the salad a sweet-tart sensibility, but as with all Caprese salads the finish is all about mozzarella melting in your mouth. If your salad is at the top of its game, the last hint of flavor comes from butterfat. That's the one thing I'd never change - even on a whim.

Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.

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